Fostering an ongoing relationship with the Indigenous communities across Vancouver and beyond has been a priority for many years for both the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Police Foundation. A process of listening, understanding and healing has been at work for decades with years of important work in this area still to come. We are proud to fund many programs that benefit both local Indigenous communities and the VPD in a way that garners a symbiotic relationship of thoughtfulness, empathy, and mutual learnings.
VPD Constable Richard Lavallee is of Cree/Metis heritage. He is a trusted member of the Indigenous community in British Columbia and the current VPD Indigenous Liaison Protocol Officer. In his 17 years with the VPD, 12 have been spent going above and beyond, working tirelessly to bridge the gap between the Indigenous community and the VPD. With funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation, Cst. Lavallee leads the Cultural Health & Learning initiative, a multifaceted program working to Indiginize healing and learning amongst policing partners who serve Indigenous communities around BC.
“Cultural Health and Learning is an important initiative as it helps me build and maintain relationships within the Indigenous community,” explains Cst. Lavallee. “It also helps educate our officers on Indigenous cultural practices and methodology. VPD members have the opportunity to experience cultural customs such as the Sweat Lodge, canoe journeys and Smudging ceremonies.”
As we move closer to a post-pandemic shift back to “normal,” many of the ceremonies and gatherings within the program that have been on hold for the last year will be up and running again. In the meantime, Cst Lavallee and members of his ceremonial family have been helping with preparation of the Sweat Lodge grounds near Squamish, including removal of dangerous trees and general clean-up.
This program is successful because of far-reaching partnerships Cst. Lavallee has established with many important local organizations including the Integrated First Nations Unit, West Vancouver Police, Transit Police, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Squamish Regional District, Squamish Nation Ocean Canoe Family and the Pulling Together Canoe Society.
The VPD, with these partnerships, is leading the way in dialogue and transformative experiences that create and revitalize our relationships with our Indigenous communities,” says Cst. Lavallee. “These relationships foster healing and growth.”
Police members from across Vancouver will develop new Indiginized approaches to assist with their work and the mental health obstacles that can result. Additionally, VPD members will build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities through cultural health and learning traditions. In addition to sweat lodge ceremonies, officers will participate in mini canoe journeys, talking and healing circles, drum and regalia-making and other cultural learnings. Each of these initiatives will also include Elders and youth from all communities in which the policing organizations work, specifically Vancouver.
Hundreds of Vancouver’s youth from the VPD Cadets, Newkids and BIPOC Field Program, among other VPF-funded youth programs, will also strengthen their knowledge about Indigenous culture and tradition as they will also participate in the Cultural Health & Learning program alongside police members.
“My goal is to educate in order to build greater understanding and compassion,” says Cst. Lavallee. “The Vancouver Police Foundation helps support the vital work I do in community and with the VPD and allows me to continue and expand the work I do, which is often reliant on donations, volunteers and my own monies.”
In his time with the VPD, Cst. Lavallee has observed changing attitudes and awareness on both sides. The eagerness of policing agencies, including the VPD, and local Indigenous communities to come together and learn more about one another has significantly increased in the last 20 years. For example, within the Vancouver Police Department, Cst. Lavallee has led more than 600 front line officers, jail staff, and sworn civilian staff through Indigenous Cultural Competency Training. A few years ago he helped establish the Indigenous Advisory Committee within the department.
“I see people wanting to learn more, including here at the VPD,” says Cst. Lavallee. “The Pulling Together Canoe Journey is another example of this. Living, eating, sleeping, pulling together in the canoes and working together with Indigenous youth and Elders for 10 days. It’s transformative for all participants as they get to know each other as human beings.”
Working slowly and thoughtfully to respectfully repair and build positive relationships between police agencies and Indigenous communities is a priority. We are proud to be providing genuine support on these stepping-stones towards mutual understanding and partnership. We look forward to listening and learning for years to come.
“It’s an evolution, not a revolution. It’s going to take time.” – Cst. Lavallee.
VPD Cst. Richard Lavallee is a respected member of the Indigenous community and has held many leadership roles in that community. He is the Past President and Board member of the Urban Native Youth Association (15 years), the current Vice President and Board member of the Circle of Eagles Lodge Society (over 15 years) and is very involved in cultural practices including Tribal Journeys and the Sweat Lodge.